To deter extremists in Syria, Obama must heed lessons of Kosovo intervention
As President Obama watches Islamic extremists gain power in the chaos of the Syrian uprising against the Bashar al-Assad regime, he should consider the precedent of the US intervention in Kosovo – where extremists have been kept at bay and democracy is growing.
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So how did Kosovo resist these extremists? The answer, according to Selimi, is American support – in particular, increased US cooperation with Kosovo’s rebels, the Kosovo Liberation Army. After NATO intervention, spurred by the refugee crisis as Kosovar Albanians fled Milosevic, the US reached out to support opposition groups. Some of those groups had previously been labeled as terrorists, but this official US support helped empower moderate elements within them and incentivize a progressive agenda.Skip to next paragraph
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“Since the Kosovo Liberation Army, the primary base for guerilla resistance, was aligned to the western agenda,” explains Selimi, “there was never an ability for extremists to obtain the type of belief and support of the population.”
Second, the US military intervention in the region itself played a major role in sidelining extremists. “The US was seen as the great ally of Kosovars and Albanians, so anybody who would come to Kosovo trying to spread anti-Americanism would have been shunned away,” says Selimi.
Had the US not intervened in Kosovo, however, the outcome would likely have been far worse. According to Selimi, “A lot of extremist groups here would have been able to gain a much stronger foothold banking on people’s frustration with a lack of response by the West and US.”
Kosovo is, of course, far from Syria, in both geography and in likeness. The histories, ethnic tensions, and composition of their opposition forces differ greatly. And no one, Kosovar or not, can definitively say what would have happened in the absence of a US and NATO intervention.
But the similarities between the two conflicts remain, especially when it comes to the dangers that a population, worn down by conflict and civil strife in the face of an oppressive regime, presents as an allure for extremist groups. Indeed, the rising influence of extremists in Syria is already topping the Obama administration’s agenda as a cause for deep concern.
And if the last decade teaches us anything, it is that these concerns are justified: Islamic extremists will use internal strife anywhere in the world to bolster their war against the West, from Pakistan to Yemen and Mali.
And so as Mr. Obama watches extremists gain power in Syria, with some groups drawing support from Al Qaeda itself, he would be wise to consider the precedent of the Kosovo intervention. If a three-month bombing campaign could help defeat the Assad regime, deter Islamic extremists, and give the Syrian opposition a solid shot at democratic governance, the effort would be well worth the cost.
If the US does intervene there as it did in Kosovo, the Syrian people might one day echo Selimi’s proud assertion that for the first time the future of Kosovo “is up to us.”